Your ligaments are flexible, strong bands of tissue that connect your bones to other bones in your joints. They make movement possible, allowing you to bend your knee or flex your foot. They also stabilize your joints (and you) by keeping your bones in their proper orientation. Although sturdy, ligaments can tear when strained or stretched beyond their capacities.
Unfortunately, ligament injuries are relatively common, particularly in athletes and others who lead very active lifestyles. There are three levels of ligament injury. Grade one is a slight ligament tear or excessive stretch, as many individuals experience when spraining an ankle. Grade two is a moderate ligament tear, and grade three is a total ligament tear, where the ligament has detached from the bone or torn completely.
Complete ligament tears are also called ruptures, requiring surgical intervention to repair. Since your ligaments support your bones and help with flexibility, a total tear will severely limit your mobility.
Who Is at Risk for Ligament Injuries?
While athletes often experience ligament injuries, anyone can suffer from a ligament injury. Tears can happen when a ligament is fully stretched and exposed to trauma. An example would be turning your ankle while running, landing awkwardly from a jump, and slipping or falling during your daily routine. Elderly individuals are at increased risk of injury as their ligaments may weaken due to age, and are more likely to experience falls.
What Joint Is Most Likely to Experience Ligament Injuries?
Ligament injuries frequently occur in the knees. This is because your knees are critical for all body movement, and they also experience a lot of pressure due to having to support most of your body weight. Four major ligaments move and support your knee: the medial collateral ligament (MCL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and lateral collateral ligament (LCL).
Many healthcare practitioners consider (ACL) the worst ligament to injure in terms of affecting mobility and stability. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most common ligament injuries orthopedic doctors see.
The ACL stabilizes the knee by controlling the movement of the lower leg, preventing hyperextension of the joint. After an ACL tear, the knee will usually become extremely unstable and swollen, and the patient will struggle to bear weight on it. However, not all ACL injuries cause intense pain. Sometimes, rather than feel pain, an individual will first realize they have injured the ligament when they hear a popping sound.
Diagnosing and Treating an ACL Tear
To diagnose an ACL tear, your doctor will physically examine your knee and ask questions about how you were injured and the symptoms you are experiencing. In addition, your doctor will likely have an MRI done on your knee to get a complete image to assess the extent of the damage.
Treatments for an ACL tear will depend on the severity of the tear. Common treatments for ACL injuries include anti-inflammatory medications, muscle-strengthening exercises, icing, protective braces, and, in the case of a complete or near-complete tear, surgery.
Injuring any of the ligaments in your knee will put a serious damper on your day-to-day activities. To get back on your feet, seek medical care as soon as possible; contact Tchejeyan Orthopedics Sports Medicine today.